Residents of the District of Columbia could witness the rare event of a member of Congress testifying in a criminal trial — a case stemming from a D.C. activist's arrest at the Capitol.
Del. Eleanor Holmes Norton, D-D.C., has said she will take the stand in the trial of local activist Adam Eidinger, who was arrested at an April House Oversight and Government Reform Committee markup of a resolution to block a D.C. anti-discrimination law. After his trial resulted in a hung jury , the government decided Tuesday morning that it would re-try Eidinger in May. “If the government tries this resident who was peacefully sitting in a public hearing again, I will make it my business to come to testify,” Norton told Roll Call in a recent interview. "I do not believe you can find 12 citizens of the District of Columbia who would convict a fellow citizen for sitting peacefully in a public hearing on a matter involving the District of Columbia."
Eidinger was charged with "unlawful entry" after he refused to leave the markup and was carried out by Capitol Police officers. During the markup, a group of protesters stood up and shouted, and were told to leave. House Oversight and Government Reform staff director Sean McLaughlin testified he saw Eidinger stand up with the group, which is why he told Eidinger to leave as well.
But Eidinger said he never stood up, and Norton agreed.
"I certainly never saw him stand up," Norton said. Noting that she sits on the committee and was on the dais that day, she said, "Maybe the staffer was told that, but I have a perfect vantage point to look down.”
McLaughlin, who is leaving for the private sector at the end of the year, will likely be called back to Superior Court to testify again. With his and the arresting officer's testimony, jurors were able to gain an inside look at how committee staff work in Congress.
But due to laws protecting the business of Congress, lawyers for the prosecution and defense, along with a representative from the House General Counsel, had to agree before the trial on the parameters of McLaughlin's testimony. Those parameters included a stipulation not to reference the subject of the committee markup.
McLaughlin, along with Oversight and Government Reform Chairman Jason Chaffetz, R-Utah, and ranking member Elijah E. Cummings, D-Md., originally fought subpoenas to testify in the trial. But McLaughlin eventually agreed to comply.
Norton, in a rare response to a comply with a congressional subpoena, had originally intended to testify in the trial, but a scheduling issue kept her from the courthouse. This time, she said, she will be there.
Norton, who is a constitutional lawyer and a law professor, pointed to broader potential implications of Eidinger's charge.
“They didn’t have to eject Adam Eidinger, so they had to find a federal statue that would justify a staff member asking someone for no reason to leave the hearing," Norton said. "This is very dangerous. That means we can go up to somebody who happens to be a Democrat or Republican and say leave the hearing. Why? Because I say so.”
Eidinger told Roll Call Tuesday morning that his stay-away order from the Rayburn House Office Building was altered to only bar him from House Oversight and Government Reform meetings. He also said the government attorneys noted in court that the Justice Department was reviewing the case, so it could still be dismissed. But for now, a jury trial is set in local D.C. court for May 2.